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Hays boys beat Great Bend to cap perfect regular season

Published: Feb. 26, 2021 at 11:15 PM CST
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HAYS, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - The move to the boys’ side has been a good one for Alex Hutchins. The Hays High coach took last year’s team to the final four before the season was interrupted by a pandemic last March. Friday night, his top-ranked Indians defeated Great Bend 50-32 to cap the school’s first perfect regular season since 2013-14.

“When you look at the team we had returning, I think it wasn’t crazy to look at our schedule, and look at each individual game and think we were good enough to win each game,” said Hutchins, now in just his second year with the boys. “The win of actually accomplishing that and getting it done each night is really tough to do.

“Our schedule wasn’t what it was supposed to be at the beginning. We lost some high-profile matchups in tournaments due to teams not being able to travel because of Covid. We were bummed by that a little bit. That doesn’t make this not something significant. It’s hard to get it done all 20 times.”

The Indians have needed a little luck. Before Christmas they overcame a 9-point deficit in the second half to beat Class 3A’s Hoisington in overtime. A month ago, Salina Central looked to have their number before a last-second shot gave the Indians a 47-46 win.

Friday’s contest was a little easier. Great Bend led 13-5 early on but scored just three field goals in the second half.

“We might not have been as intense as we needed to be right at the start on defense,” Hutchins said. “At the same time, credit to Great Bend. They’re down some guys and really came in like a team playing with nothing to lose.

“I thought we were solid on both ends for the most part. We just did not shoot the ball very well tonight. It’s hard to stretch any sort of lead when you shoot the ball like we did tonight. I’m not displeased or anything. I’m proud of our defensive effort.”

Not that the beginning was without fireworks. Great Bend’s backup point guard Braylon Council hit a pair of early threes. Two minutes in, Hays junior Jace Linenberger got things rolling with a big jam. Then Indian senior TJ Nunnery tried two spectacular dunks but missed on both. The Panthers scored after both misses, including on a Sam Hall basket to lead 13-5 just three minutes in.

Hays took over from there, taking the lead for good at 17-16 midway through the second on an assist from junior Carson Kieffer to Linenberger. Great Bend senior Cole Streck hit a long three just before the halftime buzzer, but that still left time for Nunnery to be fouled and make two free throws. Hays led 25-21 at the break.

After a slow third quarter, Hays worked the ball down low with points from junior Wes Oakley, and a pair of assists from Nunnery to senior Dalyn Schwarz. Linenberger also scored down low for a 40-27 score.

Finally, Nunnery got a little redemption. Just before Hutchins pulled his starters, senior Jason Krannawitter presented an alley-oop pass for Nunnery and this time he flushed it for the biggest lead of the night at 50-29.

Great Bend was missing several plays due to quarantine. The sophomore Council finished strong to pace the Panthers with 12 points. Streck added six points.

Linenberger led Hays with 15 points and five rebounds, and Schwarz finished with 11 points. Nunnery scored six of his 10 points from the free throw line. Krannawitter finished with six points, and junior Noah Weimer had a pair of first-quarter threes off the bench for his total.

Hays and Great Bend will see one another again, this time with even more on the line to open Wednesday’s Class 5A substate bracket.

“We’re confident but at the same time, that’s a scrappy team,” said Huthcins. “It’s a rivalry game and they don’t have a lot to lose. I’m sure we’ll get some different twists and strategic moves we didn’t get tonight. We’re going to have to be better.”

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